Contact Centers Face Compliance Challenges in 2021

As we turn the page to 2021, contact center leaders face many new challenges. One that might not be top of mind but is nonetheless very important is understanding new rules and regulations that could impact budgeting and workforce planning.

While there were some coronavirus-inspired changes at the federal level, most of these expired at the end of 2020. They could very well be reinstated under the new administration, but for purposes of this short article, we will focus on new laws that came into effect in late 2020 or 2021 in the state of California. California is the largest and most progressive state in the country and often serves as a bellwether for other states. The California Consumer Protection Act has served as the basis for privacy laws enacted by other states.

Other landmark legislation by California includes the following:

  • California employers must pay a minimum wage of $14 per hour, a $1 increase from last year's hourly minimum. Businesses with fewer than 26 workers must increase their hourly wage to at least $13. The national median wage for customer service representatives (May 2020) is $16.69 per hour, with 35 percent earning $14 per hour or less.
  • Under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) employers must grant employees leave to care not just for parents, children, and spouses (as is required under federal law), but also siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, and domestic partners. Employers that employ both parents of a child must grant up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to each employee.
  • California redefined an outside contractor as a worker who is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity; performs work outside the usual course of the hiring entity's business; and customarily engages in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed. Workers who do not meet all three criteria might be defined as an employee, and therefore, would be eligible for normal employee benefits.
  • Employers who learn of a possible COVID-19 exposure must give potentially exposed employees and subcontractors written notice within one day.

The implications are far-reaching:

  • In 2021 more than 20 states will increase their minimum wages for workers. Most of these changes became effective Jan. 1, though some states, including Connecticut, Nevada, and Oregon, will see increases later in the year. Expect contact center representatives' wages to increase. Minimum wage boosts will put pressure on employers to maintain a gap between starting salaries and minimum state or federal requirements. Increases at the CSR level will cascade upwards to the more skilled positions. This should be reflected in your labor budget.
  • Be careful when dealing with gig workers. Many contact centers rely on part-timers for seasonal spikes in volume.  It is important that contingent workers meet state definitions of contract workers and that formal agreements are in place.
  • The advent of the coronavirus brought about many changes to labor laws. These have to do with worker safety and expanded time-off provisions to care for afflicted relatives. There is no federal requirement to provide compensation for time off, but there could be state requirements. In any event, the COVID pandemic has had and will continue to have dramatic impact on employers and employees. This needs to be factored into shrinkage analysis for workforce scheduling.
  • The coronavirus is driving organizations to provide greater work/life balance. Some of this is mandated by federal or state law, but expanded individual control over agent work schedules is also becoming a standard benefit offered by organizations that recognize the increased stress employees are under at this time. Contact centers should review their paid time off policies and assure that their workforce management software empowers agents to make schedule changes in swaps autonomously provided the actions comply with business rules established by management.

Dick Bucci is founder and principal analyst of Pelorus Associates.